In search of the digital facelift

Unsurprisingly, a large body of research shows that viewing idealised or retouched images adds to the dissatisfaction that many people already feel towards their body. Research by Kristen Harrison, a media psychologist at the University of Michigan, shows that even disclosing that celebrity and advertising images are retouched makes many of us feel worse about ourselves. Becoming more aware of what others edit may heighten our awareness of our own supposed flaws. That may encourage us to spend longer using digital tools to repair them. And once you start it’s hard to stop. I felt better about posting my first FaceTuned photo than I would have if I hadn’t edited it. And since we’re more inclined to post images of ourselves that we like, says Harrison, “it’s self-sustaining because you want to do it again and again and again.” Beauty is attainable for all. Just don’t expect it to be more than a pixel deep. 

Amy Odell writing in 1843 magazine 

anger in relationships

No one in a relationship problem is ever totally innocent or totally guilty. With this belief, people can always keep the door open to their own faults without engaging in excessive, guilt-provoking self-incrimination. Holding back anger for even a short time and engaging in self-analysis in private has the effect of tempering the expression of anger. Confession altars our goals from changing others to changing the relationship.

Gary Collins, Counseling and Anger

Is it relatable?

"Relatable" is in the eye of the beholder, but its very nature is to represent itself as universal. It's shorthand that masquerades as description. 

The problem arises when "relatability" becomes the sole interpretive lens.

Can you "relate" to being enslaved, for example?  Probably not, but that should make the prospect of reading Frederick Douglass all the more enticing. Many popular texts printed in the United States before the 20th century dwell on religious thought in a way that seems strange to us now. How can nonreligious people living in the 21st century "relate" to that mindset? The realization "I don't relate to that" could be followed by a subsequent self-examination: "What is it about my life, and my time, that has made it so that I don't really get it?"

Rebecca Onion writing in Slate

The people who can help you see yourself for who you are

Romantic partners and close friends might be more informed, because they’ve observed you more—but they can also have blurrier vision, because they chose you and often share that pesky desire to see you positively. You need people who are motivated to see you accurately. And I’ve come to believe that more often than not, those people are your colleagues. The people you work with closely have a vested interest in making you better (or at least less difficult). The challenge is they’re often reluctant to tell you the stuff you don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

Adam Grant writing in The Atlantic

To be ourselves

To be ourselves we must have ourselves — possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must “recollect” ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.

Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales

I Used to Be a Human Being

In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out. Four bronchial infections in 12 months had become progressively harder to kick. Vacations, such as they were, had become mere opportunities for sleep. My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”

But the rewards were many: an audience of up to 100,000 people a day; a new-media business that was actually profitable; a constant stream of things to annoy, enlighten, or infuriate me; a niche in the nerve center of the exploding global conversation; and a way to measure success — in big and beautiful data — that was a constant dopamine bath for the writerly ego. If you had to reinvent yourself as a writer in the internet age, I reassured myself, then I was ahead of the curve. The problem was that I hadn’t been able to reinvent myself as a human being.

Andrew Sullivan writing in New York Magazine

Social Groups rather than Facts Shape our Opinions

Our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don't like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.

Think about if you were to utter a fact that contradicted the opinions of the majority of those in your social group. You pay a price for that. 

I live in a very limited universe, and so I have to depend on the beliefs and knowledge of other people. I know what I’ve read; I know what I’ve heard from experts. In that sense, the decisions we make, the attitudes we form, the judgments we make, depend very much on what other people are thinking.

Steven Sloman quoted in Vox

To Take a Step Without Feet

This is Love: to fly toward a secret sky,
To cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First, to let go of life.
In the end, to take a step without feet;
to regard this world as invisible,
and to disregard what appears to the self.

Heart, I said, what a gift it has been
to enter this circle of lovers,
to see beyond seeing itself,
to reach and feel within the breast.

My soul, where does this breathing arise?
How does this beating heart exist?
Bird of the soul, speak in your own words,
and I will understand.

The heart replied: I was in the workplace
the day this house of water and clay was fired.
I was already fleeing that created house,
even as it was being created.
When I could no longer resist, I was dragged down,
and my features were molded from a handful of earth.


Admitting You are Wrong

Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when the self-concept — I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m convinced this belief is true — is threatened by evidence that we did something that wasn’t smart, that we did something that hurt another person, that the belief isn’t true. To reduce dissonance, we have to modify the self-concept or accept the evidence. Guess which route people prefer?

We cling to old ways of doing things, even when new ways are better and healthier and smarter. We cling to self-defeating beliefs long past their shelf life. And we make our partners, co-workers, parents and kids really, really mad at us.

 Carol Tavris quotes in the New York Times and co-author of the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

Tech created a global village — and put us at each other’s throats

As we get additional information about others, we place greater stress on the ways those people differ from us than on the ways they resemble us, and this inclination to emphasize dissimilarities over similarities strengthens as the amount of information accumulates. On average, we like strangers best when we know the least about them.

The effect intensifies in the virtual world, where everyone is in everyone else’s business. Social networks like Facebook and messaging apps like Snapchat encourage constant self-disclosure. Because status is measured quantitatively online, in numbers of followers, friends, and likes, people are rewarded for broadcasting endless details about their lives and thoughts through messages and photographs. To shut up, even briefly, is to disappear. One study found that people share four times as much information about themselves when they converse through computers as when they talk in person.

Progress toward a more amicable world will require not technological magic but concrete, painstaking, and altogether human measures: negotiation and compromise, a renewed emphasis on civics and reasoned debate, a citizenry able to appreciate contrary perspectives. At a personal level, we may need less self-expression and more self-examination.

Technology is an amplifier. It magnifies our best traits, and it magnifies our worst.

Nicholas Carr writing in the Boston Globe

Time Alone

Find a regular time and place to be alone. People in transition are often still involved in activities and relationships that continue to bombard them with cues irrelevant to their emerging needs. Because a person is likely to feel lonely in such a situation, the temptation is to seek more and better contact with others; but the real need is for a genuine sort of  aloneness  in which inner signals can make themselves heard. Doing housework after the kids leave for school or paperwork with the office door shut are not being alone in the sense I am talking about.

The old passage rituals provide the person with this experience of deep aloneness, often in a wilderness setting. (Interestingly, the Hebrew word for the “wilderness” in which Jesus, Moses, and Buddha spent time during critical periods of their lives is the same word that means ‘sanctuary.” This unmappable “nowhere” was also, as several of these heroes were explicitly told, holy ground.) Traditionally, time spent in such “sanctuaries” was a continuous period; but you many have to plan your time to accommodate your own life situation. One person manages that getting up every morning forty-five minutes ahead of the rest of the family and sitting quietly in the living room with a cup of coffee. Another jogs regularly after work for a half an hour. Another plays ocean sounds and temple bells on his car stereo whenever he drives along. Still another has cleaned out a little storage room off the upstairs hall and sits quietly alone in there for an hour after supper.

William Bridges, Transitions

The illuision

Self-evaluation involves interpretation. We’re all heard the studies showing that the vast majority of us consider ourselves above-average drivers. In the psychology literature, this belief is known as a positive illusion. Our brains are positive factories: Only 2 percent of high school seniors believe their leadership skills are below average. A full 25 percent of people believe they’re in the top 1 percent in their ability to get along with others. Ninety-four percent of college professors report doing above average work. People think they’re at lower risk than their peers for heart attacks, cancer, and even food-related illnesses such as salmonella.

Most deliciously self-deceptive of all, people say they are more likely than their peers to provide accurate self-assessments. Positive illusions pose an enormous problem with regard to change. Before people can change, before they can move in a new direction, they’ve got to have their bearings. But positive illusions make it hard for us to orient ourselves – to get a clear picture of where we are and how we’re doing.

Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

Painting your Internal World

Therapists often run into a curious problem during treatment: Clients aren’t very good at describing their emotions. How exactly do you express the nature of your depression? So this spring, relationship counselor Crystal Rice hit upon a clever idea. She had her clients use Pinterest, the popular picture-pinning social network, to create arrays of images that map out their feelings. It’s a brilliant epiphany: While emotions can be devilishly difficult to convey in words, they’re often very accessible via pictures. “This way we can really identify what’s going on,” Rice says.

As Rice discovered with her clients, Pinterest’s appeal is that it gives us curiously powerful visual ways to communicate, think, and remember. If you see one picture of a guitar, it’s just a guitar; but when you see 80 of them lined up you start to see guitarness. This additive power is precisely what helps Rice’s clients paint their internal worlds.

Part of the value of Pinterest is that it brings you out of yourself and into the world of things. As the Huffington Post writer Bianca Bosker argued, Facebook and Twitter are inwardly focused (“Look at me!”) while Pinterest is outwardly focused (“Look at this!”). It’s the world as seen through not your eyes but your imagination.

Granted, Pinterest encourages plenty of dubious behavior too. It can be grindingly materialistic; all those pins of stuff to buy! Marketers are predictably adrool, and as they swarm aboard, the whole service might very well end up collapsing into a heap of product shilling.

But I suspect we’ll see increasingly odd and clever ways of using Pinterest. If a picture is worth a thousand words, those collections are worth millions.

Clive Thompson, Wired Magazine

We are Lousy Self-evaluators

A stranger walks into a room and sits down behind a table. He picks up a piece of paper and read aloud a generic-sounding weather report. He completes his “report” in about 90 seconds and walks out of the room.

Next, you’re asked to guess his IQ.

You’re part of a psychological experiment, and you object to the absurdity of the request. I don’t know anything about that guy. He just came into a room and read a report. It wasn’t even his report- you gave it to him to read! How am I supposed to know his IQ?

Reluctantly, you make a wild guess. Separately, Fake Weatherman is asked to guess his own IQ. Who made a better guess?

Amazingly, you did, even though you know nothing about Fake Weatherman. Two (German) psychologists.. conducted this experiment, and they found that the strangers’ IQ predictions were better than the predictions of those whose IQ was being predicted- about 66 percent more accurate.

To be clear, it’s not so much that you’re a brilliant predictor; it’s that he’s a lousy self-evaluator. We’re all lousy self-evaluators. College students do a superior job predicting the longevity of their roommates’ romantic relationships than their own.

Savor, for a moment, the preposterousness of these findings. Fake Weatherman has all the information, and you’ve got none. He’s got decades of data- year’s worth of grades, college entrance exams cores, job evaluations, and more. Fake Weatherman should be the worlds foremost expert on Fake Weatherman!

Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

People think they know something.. because others know it

People are individually rather limited thinkers and store little information in their own heads. Much knowledge is instead spread through the community—whose members do not often realise that this is the case.

(Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach) call this the illusion of understanding, and they demonstrate it with a simple experiment. Subjects are asked to rate their understanding of something, then to write a detailed account of it, and finally to rate their understanding again. The self-assessments almost invariably drop. The authors see this effect everywhere, from toilets and bicycles to complex policy issues. The illusion exists, they argue, because humans evolved as part of a hive mind, and are so intuitively adept at co-operation that the lines between minds become blurred. Economists and psychologists talk about the “curse of knowledge”: people who know something have a hard time imagining someone else who does not. The illusion of knowledge works the other way round: people think they know something because others know it.

From a review in the Economist of “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach

Finding our Preferred Facts

Most of us have ways of making other people confirm our favored conclusions without ever engaging them in conversation. Consider this: To be a great driver, lover, or chef, we don’t need to be able to parallel park while blindfolded, make ten thousand maidens swoon with a single pucker, or create a pâte feuilletée so intoxicating that the entire population of France instantly abandons its national cuisine and swears allegiance to our kitchen. Rather, we simply need to park, kiss, and bake better than most other folks do. How do we know how well most other folks do? Why, we look around, of course—but in order to make sure than we see what we want to see, we look around selectively.

For example, volunteers in one study took a test that ostensibly measured their social sensitivity and were then told that they had flubbed the majority of the questions. When these volunteers were then given an opportunity to look over the test results of other people who had performed better or worse than they had, they ignored the test of the people who had done better and instead spent their time looking over the tests of the people who had done worse.

The bottom line is this: The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Little Lies

Small, self-serving lies are likely to progress to bigger falsehoods, and over time, the brain appears to adapt to the dishonesty, according to a new study. 

The finding, the researchers said, provides evidence for the “slippery slope” sometimes described by wayward politicians, corrupt financiers, unfaithful spouses and others in explaining their misconduct. 

“They usually tell a story where they started small and got larger and larger, and then they suddenly found themselves committing quite severe acts,” said Tali Sharot, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London. She was a senior author of the study.

Erica Goode writing in the New York Times

As many followers as possible

Noelle Moseley, who consults for technology companies told me that she had recently interviewed heavy users of Instagram: young women who cultivated different personas on different social networks. Their aim was to get as many followers as possible – that was their definition of success.

Every new follow and every comment delivered an emotional hit. But a life spent chasing hits didn’t feel good. Moseley’s respondents spent all their hours thinking about how to organise their lives in order to take pictures they could post to each persona, which meant they weren’t able to enjoy whatever they were doing, which made them stressed and unhappy.

Ian Leslie writing in 1843 magazine

Breaking up is hard to do

The time immediately after a bad relationship is filled with promise. It's as if you've rid yourself of something that was weighing you down and keeping you from reaching your full potential. You fell light and clear and free. But this honeymoon with yourself is short-lived and you’re soon in a new relationship fraught with the same old problems. This pattern continues until you finally realize that most of the issues are your own, and that to be truly free, you must break up with yourself.

Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions